Iron City Beer purchases will be on the rise tonight in the Steel City. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh’s prized rookie running back, may be sidelined for at least four to six weeks with a Lisfranc injury.
For the many leagues that had their fantasy drafts before Monday night’s Steeler game, I’m sorry. There’s at least one guy in each of those leagues hitting himself today for grabbing Le’Veon as his RB2. I know the feeling. We’ve all been there.
And unfortunately with Bell’s situation, finding a replacement isn’t as simple as scavenging the waiver wire.
The Steelers High Hopes
Todd Haley and company were bad at running the football last year. In fact, according to our numbers, only the Raiders and Cardinals ranked worse in adjusted rushing net expected points per attempt. With each tote, Pittsburgh was losing .11 points. Real points, too – not fake ones.
Much of the Steelers lack of rushing success last year had to do with a young, injured offensive line. The line is still youthful in 2013, and have already shown signs of poor play. If you watched any of the Monday Night game against the Redskins, you’d see exactly what I’m talking about. I’m pretty sure I heard a report that Maurkice Pouncey was bull rushed in line for a Chik-fil-A sandwich after the game.
However, there was optimism within the organization about rookie back Le’Veon Bell. His pass blocking was improving in camp, making him a nice candidate to be a three-down back. He was the bell cow that Todd Haley wanted but didn’t have last year. Bell was, for all intents and purposes, going to be the highest-volume rookie back in the NFL this year.
But the Lisfranc said no.
Dwyer and Redman in 2012
Bell was going to be a major upgrade over the middling Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, as both those guys just couldn’t handle the load last year. How do I know? Well, both backs last year were miserable for the Steelers according to our analytics. It wouldn’t take much to be better.
Dwyer and Redman both finished with negative rushing net expected points per attempt last season, a measure that looks at how well a player contributed towards his team’s output on a per play basis. A lot of running backs fall below zero in this metric, but not all of them drop down to Redman and Dwyer levels.
Redman finished 58th of 72 50-plus attempt runners in terms of rushing NEP/attempt, losing .11 points per rush for the Steelers. Dwyer wasn’t much better, finishing with a -.09 value and ranking 55th out of the same 72 guys. It’s bad, people; trust me. They’re in like, Jackie Battle and Jacquizz Rodgers territory. Running that poorly without high volume does not translate well to the fantasy stat sheet.
While the offensive line certainly plays a role in this, both runners haven’t been much better throughout their playing time. Redman was comforted in a third-down role earlier in his career, skewing his NEP totals. When defenses aren’t prepared for a run, it’s easier to contribute positively towards your personal NEP value. That’s why last year was most telling for these runners, as they were finally in an early-down running back role.
A Running Situation to Stay Away From
Keep in mind, the Steelers signed change-of-pace running back LaRod Stephens-Howling over the offseason to beef up their running back depth. They had Chris Rainey last season, but the Florida Gator (go figure) ended up being cut at the end of the season after being arrested for slapping his girlfriend. I'd expect "The Hyphen" to gather more than Rainey's 26 attempts from last year.
The Steelers ran the ball 413 times a season ago. Dwyer saw 156 attempts, while Redman had 110. There’s little chance that Todd Haley will have a change of heart and feature one of these runners while Bell is out. After all, if he saw an every-down runner in one of them, why would the Steelers use their second round pick on the Michigan State running back? Chances are, we've got ourselves a full blown committee.
Durability is a concern for both Redman and Dwyer too, as neither played the entire 16-game season last year. Aside from their performance, this is another reason you should stay away from the running situation in Pittsburgh.
If anything, the news regarding Bell could help the reception totals of Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown a bit. Todd Haley features an efficient offense where Roethlisberger slings the ball in shorter increments than he was used to under offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. We saw nice numbers from Big Ben before he nearly crushed his aorta against the Chiefs last year, and that type of effectiveness may translate into a Le’Veon-less Steelers offense in 2013.
Time will tell whether or not Bell will miss the entire season or not. In the meantime, don’t go snagging Jonathan Dwyer or Isaac Redman in the single-digit rounds just yet. Not only should we expect a running back-by-committee system, but neither were incredibly effective last season. The only way either is super fantasy relevant is if they show something special in the final two preseason games, which is unlikely given the offensive line woes.